I just found one of my three new favourite things to eat. It’s in Mayfair, it’s at Jean-Georges, and it’s essentially expensive toast. Now, people have been saying a lot of things about Jean-Georges’ new restaurant at The Connaught, but people have always said a lot of things about Mr Vongerichten. I remember when his 66, with its gleaming white Richard Meier interior, had its moment in Tribeca back in the early noughties. I was working on a New York story for the Sunday Times travel section and wanted to get in and write about it. Mostly I just wanted to get in. I tried to snag a table via the usually failsafe sorcery of PR and was informed with Arctic exactitude that, as AA Gill had given the restaurant such a (hilarious) kicking in Vanity Fair, and because he was “my colleague at the Sunday Times”, I wasn’t welcome. I went anyway, for one of those sad 5.30pm sittings that anyone can get a reservation for, and I loved it – I spent months trying to perfect my own foie gras and grapefruit steamed dumpling at home. Similarly, I still love Vongerichten’s restaurant at The Mark, which is comfort food for women who own ponies. And I’m a huge fan of what he’s doing at PUBLIC, the new Ian Schrager hotel on the Lower East Side. The room is buzzy and the food is ace – most notably the popcorn-cheddar frico, which is basically that wafer of crisped cheese you get when the cheddar accidentally spills on to the hot plate of your toasted sandwich maker, melded with popcorn. It’s gourmet food for stoners.
One recurrent comment has been: “Truffle and fontina pizza for £29!? WTF!??”
So, then, to The Connaught… and what people have been saying. One recurrent comment has been: “Truffle and fontina pizza for £29!? WTF!??” Which, when you look at the queue outside Goyard across the street, smacks of the kind of Brexity “I could cook better at home” snark you get below restaurant critics’ work online. It’s Mayfair for f––k’s sake. It’s The Connaught! That aside, the critics themselves have been mostly positive. But no amount of prose-through-hoops can disguise the fact that someone’s being sort-of-nice because they’re friends with the chef. The week before I went to Jean-Georges at The Connaught, a critic who isn’t friends with the chef sent me a text: “If you like it when you go, I will JUDGE.”
And? Well… I definitely liked bits of it. If £29 for a pizza isn’t going to bother you, then by all means go and order it (it’s perfectly nice). There’s also some vaguely faffed around with pasta, salads and proteins. But by far the best thing here is a £30 piece of brioche toast with fancified egg-yolks, herbs and caviar. It’s a tiny wafer of sandwich, gone in two bites, but ridiculously lush. This, with a glass of champagne and a view out of the window looking at Tadao Ando’s water fountain drifting steam across rain-slicked Mount Street, is a lovely thing indeed. As I said to the waitress: “Cor – that was like… the best croque of all time! I could eat a dozen.” And indeed, that might represent £360 well spent – although I’d probably throw up afterwards.
Jean-Georges’ Egg Toast & Caviar is one of three dishes I’ve had in the last month that made me sit up and make a comedic noise of delight. I love a standout dish at a restaurant. For a while I was obsessed with the veal cappelletti at Theo Randall. I still love the lamb chops at Gunpowder (and will eat lamb nowhere else). Right now, I’m very into the grouse pie (pictured top) at 45 Jermyn Street. I love just about every aspect of this corner of Fortnum’s, from the orange leather booths to the Welsh rarebit for afters and the waiters who are game for a laugh even when you are well into hour three of a jolly lunch about to tip into a jolly evening. I wish the grouse pie could always be on the menu, but all good things come to an end and it turns into a pumpkin around Halloween. This pie, which turns up at the table cut from a perfectly fired golden dome into two halves is absurdly delicious – rich with foie gras, and a gravy made from the bird’s carcass that the waiter pours on top. It’s nirvana for carnivores.
The third dish I’m crazed for currently is the parmesan fries at Luca. On my last visit I had two pasta dishes (standard for me – a primi sized as a secondi to start, and then a different dish, in a similarly full sized portion, to follow). Both were lovely, but it was the parmesan fries I want to go back for. These are, essentially, carbonara churros. They are creamy, and lush, and cheesy and crispy and I need them right now. Perhaps with grouse pie to follow, and a £30 caviar croque to follow. Hell, throw in a popcorn-cheddar frico for good measure. C
45 Jermyn Street, St James’s, London SW1Y 6JD
020-7205 4545; 45jermynst.com
Jean-Georges at The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL
020-7107 8861; the-connaught.co.uk
Luca, 88 St John St, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4EH
002-3859 3000; luca.restaurant